The East End Preservation Society

Founded in 2013, the East End Preservation Society (EEPS) is an informal group that uses the power of social media to bring people together who ‘care about the East End and are concerned about the future of its built environment’. Followers include some prominent figures in the heritage world – such as East End resident and former National Gallery and Royal Academy Director, Sir Charles Saumarez Smith, who has lent his weight to a campaign to save the George Tavern on Commercial Road, a legendary venue for music of all kinds, poetry, and drama, as well as the epicentre of the East End’s thriving artistic community.

Brick Lane’s large Jewish community has moved on but two beigel shops remain, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week – where night-shift workers mingle with rock stars, taxi drivers, and all-night revellers.

It is well known that social media often produces more trenchant comments than other forms of communication: on his blog, Charles lets rip at Historic England for not lending its authority to this and other campaigns. He accuses the current management of being ‘pro-development’, writing, ‘It will probably argue that [the development that threatens the pub] is a good example of creative adaptation, as they did with the [Whitechapel] Bell Foundry, to their eternal shame.’ He adds that the issue is not just about a building, but ‘an example of living culture… a community asset, a fragile ecology which is much more at risk than a more substantial architectural monument.’

English and Bengali street names in the Brick Lane area, with its numerous curry houses and textile importers established by migrants from Bangladesh in the 1970s.

Another big issue that involves a whole community is the ‘Save Brick Lane’ campaign, set up to oppose the construction of a five-storey premium retail and office block attached to the former Truman Brewery. Grassroots campaigners fear this is contrary to the community’s values and will lead to further ‘gentrification’, rising rents, and over-development in an area that has hundreds of small businesses and whose multicultural character has been formed by refugees seeking sanctuary in London – whether Huguenot silk weavers fleeing religious persecution in France in the 17th century or Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe or, most recently, people displaced by the Bangladesh War of Independence in the 1970s.

The former Truman Brewery is a hive of independent shops, galleries, bars, and creative businesses, but plans to develop vacant land have not gone down well with the local community, which fears gentrification and rising rents.

Campaigning on this scale can be exhausting but small victories can boost morale: the EEPS recently issued a statement thanking the 17,000 people, led by Dame Judi Dench, who had helped them save the 400-year-old mulberry tree – the oldest tree in the East End – on the site of the former London Chest Hospital. It will now to be retained in future development, thanks to a High Court ruling.

Further information: East End Preservation Society:; Charles Saumarez Smith’s blog:

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Text & photos: C Catling.